Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Winter's Tale - cycling from Cambridge to Kings Lynn Part 1

After a few day's of inactivity - well cycling-inactivity and promises of snow from the forecasters I decided to take advantage of Wednesday's fine and clear weather to get a longer ride in. I haven't been up to King's Lynn for a while so that was to be my destination. Although I must first just get a few News snippets out of the way. It turns out with the change in funding Speed Cameras some County Councils have decommissioned their Speed Cameras - Oxford is one such county. Well in what must be a surprise to no-one speeding soars by 400% following the switch-off. Fortunately Thames Valley Police has stepped in to fund the service using fines and fees. The article does go on to say that switching off all the speed cameras could lead to 800 extra deaths on the roads (a year I presume)!

Which leads on to who causes accidents, research in Australia indicates that motorists "are at fault in majority of cycling accidents". The study used video cameras to monitor cyclist activity over a period of time and found that in 87% of "events" the motorists were judged to be at fault. Now the sample size was limited and carrying around a video camera was bound to have some effect on the cyclist behaviour - but it does not surprise me when compared with my own experiences of bicycle/motor vehicle interaction.

It also turns out that some of the places I cycle are more than they seem (to me anyway). Apparently Over has a "swingers" club that is being taken to court. Perhaps that is why the route from the CGB cycle path through to Over is not quite good as some of the other villages along the CGB. I do occasionally see some odd sights when cycling around (normally off-road) but I have not seen Cambridge Student Charlotte making history. However the good news is that they did cycle to their photo-shoot. I once cycled past a man carrying his trousers whilst walking along a path (in the country), I mumbled good afternoon but did not pay attention to what else he might or might not have been wearing.

Back to the cycle ride. I was originally intending to cycle to King's Lynn and then catch the train back to Ely and then cycle back from Ely to Cambridge. About two -thirds of my way to King's Lynn I had a change of plan I made it easier for myself by catching the train back to Cambridge. There were good reasons - mainly huge gloops of mud on NCN11 between Barway and Wicken Fen which I would have had to cycle on in the dark. Thinking about it I could/should have got off the train at Waterbeach and had a pleasant cycle back down alongside the Cam on the spare bit of NCN11 that goes "nowhere". The trouble is I did not think about it until I had bought my ticket and was on the train and my Scottish heritage would not allow me to waste the money I had spent on the ticket.

There are a variety of routes I take when heading up to King's Lynn, this time around I took NCN11, pretty much as is, after leaving NCN51 at Bottisham to head out onto Lodes Way. The OSM Cycle Map shows the old NCN11 route as going past the King's Lynn Power Station along a road to the east. The NCN11 route that is signed on the ground and appears on the OS Map (and the Sustrans Map) goes "off-road" along a tarmac path to the West of the Power Station alongside the River Great Ouse. (Note I am not complaining about the great job done by the people who contribute to and compile the OSM Cycle map - I use it all the time.)

So if you do what I did the length of the ride is just about 100Km / 60+ miles, the BikeRouteToaster summary indicates it is 98.75Km, but my distance includes a couple of very minor detours. The other good (or bad if you like hills) thing about the ride is that it is pretty flat. There are some very minor hills and the only climbs you will even notice are getting up to Ely and into Little Downham and even then the maximum altitude is only 34m above sea level. The other great thing is that the ride is pretty much on quiet country roads or off-road. Very little of it is even on B roads and I think there is only 1.6Km/ 1mile on an A road (A1101 near Welney).

There are quite a few ways to change the ride, I sometimes cycle through Littleport (two ways) and then up Ten Mile Bank. There appears to be a way to avoid the detour to Ten Mile bank, so next time I might try carrying on up the New Bedford River along a bridleway to Downham Market. I also don't take the most direct route to the station through King's Lynn. The reason for this is I when I first cycled to King's Lynn the route was not fully signed and I found my own way through which I quite like, so I stick to it.

UPDATE: The BikeRouteToaster Link for this route: Cambridge to King's Lynn.

Cambridge to Kings Lynn.JPG

When I set off I didn't think there was any wind, but since wind is sometimes in the mind when cycling I did convince myself that the wind was slightly against me but not directly so. Since I had some distance to cover and I have taken quite a few pictures closer to Cambridge recently I wasn't planning to stop much. However as I have a bee in my bonnet about posts in the middle of cycle (and walking and horse riding tracks) I did think I might take pictures over every barrier on the way to King's Lynn, such as this one on Swaffham Bulbeck Lode Bridge. As I like cycling at night in the countryside, away from the "beaten track" I guess I am more sensitive about this than many other people - but I would like to see reflective tape on all barriers like this.


When I reached Reach Lode bridge I realised I had passed another such post without thinking, and life was too short to go back. Its funny stopping and starting is fine, but turning back is something I tend not to like doing on my bike. There was a "warning" notice though. The Wicken Fen people are quite good at being pro-active with information. (Perhaps that is MikeC's doing?)


This is the problem - there has always been a bit of a lip between the bridge and the ramp up to the bridge. And let's face it for us flatlanders this isn't just a bridge it is a hill! It would seem that the lip has incurred a bit of damage. To tell the truth I did stop to take the picture but I cycled over the lip. If you don't tell I won't. At the moment Split Drove (lots of gloopy mud) is much trickier than this one slightly stepped edge.


Just after taking the picture I noticed a bird of prey hovering quite high in the air waiting to swoop on some unsuspecting mid-morning snack. It gave up in the end. My bird recognition skills have never been much good. As I have mentioned before in my rural Primary School - two classes total 60 kids- we had lots of flower and plant tests - but we never did talk about birds much, or the bees for that matter!


Whilst coming down from the hill bridge I did notice that the pole the other side has got some reflective tape on it - so it was only fair that I took a picture in recognition of someone's work. Thank you to who ever did it.


My Speedo, which also has a thermometer was showing around 7C which was fine whilst cycling. I had four layers on top, plus a headband and hat and leggings and was generating enough heat to keep me warm, as long as I didn't hang around too much taking pictures. Since there has been a bridge theme to my pictures I stopped and took a picture of Burwell Lode from the footbridge.


Whilst on the bridge I also took a picture of what was a weak wintry sun and grey cloudy skies - whilst I like cycling on snow I didn't fancy the idea of cycling another 50 miles in falling snow. (If you are interested this is a panorama picture made up of two pictures and so is the picture after it.)

Burwell Fen.jpg

There has been metal tracking alongside NCN11 from the entrance down to the site of the new windpump in Wicken Fen, or rather the site of the Windpump work. I am not sure where the Windpump will go. The metal tracking was to avoid the heavier machinery chewing up the grass on its way to the construction area. The path is now back to "normal".

Wicken Fen Windpump work.jpg

Although the route is on country roads at this time of year the farmers are pretty busy, in some cases harvesting sugar beet to avoid it getting damaged by the frosts - which seem to be upon us actually. So quite a few tractors and trailers were using the Lower Road/Lower Drove between Wicken and Padney. I tended to get out of their way - they had a job to do and they always waved their thanks. What it did mean though was that the road was very, very muddy. The peat-mud is also very slippery and I found my rear wheel spinning if I tried to pedal too hard. The muddy bit wasn't too far, but I did wonder how this was going to be in the dark.

I did stop to admire this field which had been nicely tilled, Ely Cathedral is on the horizon to the left. I took the picture whilst standing next to the Pumping Station on Soham Lode.

View from NCN11 Near Ely.jpg

Cycling through Ely wasn't bad, although there looked to be a lot of cars on the road (Stuntney Causeway) heading to the railway bridge/level crossing. In fact I was surprised how congested the road was in the middle of the day. The town itself was not too bad (on a bicycle) and I followed NCN11 over the hill and out the other side and onto the Downham Road. You have to cross the A10 Ely bypass, which can sometimes be a bit unpleasant, but was not a problem this time around. NCN11 then heads up through Little Downham and back down the other side to Pymoor where it then heads along some straight roads to meet up with and run alongside the New Bedford River (aka Hundred Foot Drain).


That was the railway bridge over the road, this is the same railway line bridge over the Hundred Foot Drain, the 1940s OS map shows it as the Ely and Peterborough Branch. This area is also known as the Hundred Foot Washes.

Railway Bridge alongside Wash Road near Welney Reserve.jpg

To the right of the railway line you can see more clearly how extensive the washes are. The photographs above and below are composites of two pictures in each case.

Welney Wash.jpg

This picture combines the previous two pictures into one picture (and hence made up of four pictures) to give a sense of scale. I quite like the train journey - this is the route I take when travelling up to Manchester sometimes. (There are alternatives but this is perhaps the most pleasant. You can get to Manchester Oxford Road Railway Station with only one change at Ely from Cambridge. The New Bedford River is of course straight. The bend is only introduced by the way in which the pictures get combined.

Railway Suspenson Bridge Welney.jpg

By this point although I was enjoying my ride, one of my longer ones of late it was getting colder, less than 5C. So I think it was around here that I changed my plans and decided to catch the train back from King's Lynn to Cambridge. It knocks around 30Km/20miles off the journey, but more importantly misses out the two muddiest stretches of the route, stretches I was not really looking forward to in the dark when I was tired.


  1. I try to keep N.T. Wicken up to date with conditions, but they'd be better off reading your blog. Yes, really!

    Hovering birds: The only accipiter (small-medium hunting bird) that can hover is the Kestrel. A few much smaller passerines can do it, but if it stops and hovers while hunting in the UK it's a Kestrel, no question.

    While on the Lodes Way at dusk, look out for Barn Owls (big, white) and particularly between Reach and Burwell Lodes Short-eared Owls, dark brown above, low flying, and a touch larger than barn owls, but more timid (ie going to be further away). There are Little Owls in the area too, they hunt in daylight, and are about the length of a Kestrel, but are shaped like a pear standing on its stalk when perching, the most common way to see them.

    BTW: "Cyclists Dismount" is not an acceptable solution to problems with poorly implemented junctions/tracks/whatever. I haven't seen the notice you photographed (Reach Lode bridge judging by the wood and steel bits) but I will be making a fuss about it ASAP. That joint sagging has been minuted at several Steering Group meetings already. Putting up notices is not the way to fix problems with £600,000-worth of bridge!

  2. Hi Mike,

    Now I know I'll pay more attention the next time and see if I can get a better picture.

    I have seen owls - either Barn or Short-eared, going from your description. I had thought they were Barn owls, but now I am not so sure.

    I hope that the bridge issue is something that will be sorted out by the contractors under the terms of the contract. I came over the other way today - there is quite a drop for a new build. Given the problems with building on the Lode bank did they consider a more flexible joint? Mind you I still appreciate the new route and still enjoy cycling along it.

  3. At dusk, the most common time to see them, barn owls appear to be white all over, very ghostly, and they will get quite close while hunting, as close as 20m sometimes. Short-eared are clearly dark brown on top, and will stay further away while flying, a few hundred metres.

    Watch out for Newnham Drove, there are a lot of loose stones, 3-4cm diameter, where some potholes have been filled in, and it looks as if some new hard-standing is being installed. Maybe for trucks to load. Horrible to cycle on -- although I was on foot today. Thankfully whoever has been putting the orange twine on the gate has desisted. The gate is supposed to be replaced by bollards, so the twine is completely redundant. Oh, and some reflective tape has appeared on the bollard at the bottom of the bridge ramp too.

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  5. The gates at the end of Newnham Drove were open when I went by on Friday. I had to scramble over the rubble along with my bike and duck under the shovel on the digger - I took a picture which when I finish my Post should be appearing soon. The Bollards sound reasonable. As a cyclist I do like the fact that there are a number of routes in and out of Lodes Way.